The Mecca summits
The summits that Saudi Arabia has called for at the end of the month come at a critical juncture.
Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council summits are to take place May 30. An Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit is scheduled for May 31.
If the concomitance of these meetings is exceptional, so are the challenges facing the Arab region, the Muslim world and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries are entitled to the support of the assembled Arab and Muslim countries as they face the continuing threats of Iran and its proxies. Iran’s immediate provocations and long-term designs put peace and security in the region and the world in jeopardy.
Tehran’s risk-laden manoeuvres are pushing brinkmanship to its utmost limits.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have exercised laudable restraint despite brazen provocations constituted by the May 12 and May 14 attacks in the Gulf. Iran’s behaviour, however, is testing everyone’s patience because there is a large consensus that Iran and its proxies were behind the attacks against vessels off the Emirati coast and Saudi oil installations.
US Navy Vice-Admiral Michael Gilday, director of the Joint Staff, dispelled any doubt about the responsibility of Iran’s role in recent attacks, accusing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of direct involvement. “The attack against the shipping in Fujairah, we attribute it to the IRGC,” he said.
Gilday also accused Iran-backed “proxy” forces of carrying out the May 19 rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
He said Iran was embarked on a “campaign” stretching from Iraq to Yemen to the Strait of Hormuz.
Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham said top administration officials’ saw the attacks as “coordinated and directed by the Iranian government, the ayatollah.”
The US public is increasingly aware of the long-term threat to peace that the Iranian regime constitutes.
Even if divided about the way US President Donald Trump is handling the crisis, Most Americans polled stated pessimism about the odds of war and peace with Iran. A Reuters/Ipsos poll indicated that 51% of respondents said the United States and Iran would go to war within the next few years, up 8 percentage points from a similar poll published last June.
Iran was described by 53% of those asked as either a “serious” or “imminent” threat, up by 6% from last July.
Iranian bellicosity and the provocations of its proxies fuel fears of confrontation.
Attempts by Iran-backed Houthis at striking Saudi targets have continued. A suspect missile attack targeted Baghdad’s Green Zone on May 19.
Iranian leaders boast of quadrupling their production capacity of low-enriched uranium. They threaten freedom of navigation in the strategically situated Strait of Hormuz.
“Everything north of the Strait of Hormuz is under our control,” senior IRGC commander Ali Fadavi was quoted as saying.
“(Movements of) American battleships in the region are under the complete control of Iran’s army and the Revolutionary Guards,” Fadavi added.
As US economic sanctions seem to be taking their toll on Iran, the Tehran regime seems to see provocative actions as its way to intimidate the United States and Arab Gulf nations and maybe escape the tightening effects of the sanctions. Such provocations are only likely to produce the opposite results and the challenges to regional peace and security are real.
As it hosts three summits in Mecca at the end of the month, Riyadh is showing its determination to meet such challenges. Saudi Arabia seems determined to associate its neighbours in the Gulf and the Arab region as well as fellow Muslim nations in shaping a common strategy.
The summits are expected to project a wide Arab-Islamic consensus against the politics of aggression and sectarian strife. As they threaten the Gulf region, Iran’s policies are triggering reactions in the United States and elsewhere in the West. They are also a matter of concern to the Arab and Muslim world, as the Mecca summits are expected to show.
The stakes are high, not just for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region but also for Arab and Muslim nations and the rest of the world.
Taking place in the holiest of holy places and at the holiest time of the Islamic year, the summits carry a powerful message that cannot be missed by Tehran and other extremists in the region.